Locals, experts weigh in on proposed TNR program in Tulsa

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsans have been dealing with feral cats for decades.

Earlier this year, FOX23 told you about a partnership between Tulsa Animal Welfare and a Utah-based nonprofit called Best Friends Animal Society.

Their goal is to create a city-funded cat colony program. The program includes a practice called TNR, or trap, neuter, and return. Volunteers trap the cats, administers vaccinations, neuters or spays them, and then returns the animals to the same spot.

The idea has many people divided. Some day the program eases room in animal shelters, but it is cruel to return cats outdoors.

Erin Shackleford is the Executive Director for Oklahoma Alliance for Animals. She says the organization doesn’t take part in TNR, but does help low-income families spay or neuter their pets.

Shackleford says that TNR programs are successful.

“All these groups that implemented community cat programs are seeing the reductions in shelters and colonies. They’ve tracked these colonies that have been TNR’d. It’s proven results,” said Shackleford.

T-Town TNR is a local nonprofit that traps, neuters, and returns feral cats. Last year, they spay and neutered 1,431 cats. Outsiders TNR is another nonprofit, they handled 517 cats in 2021.

Best Friends Animal Society also supports TNR. A contract shows that the City of Tulsa paid $150,000 to Best Friends Animal Society. FOX23 spoke with the organization’s Director of National Programs, Brent Toellner about their involvement in Tulsa.

“We knew there was an appetite from administration with the City of Tulsa, to try and do better and improve shelter operations,” said Toellner.

Best Friends hopes to make every shelter in America no-kill by 2025. They say this is possible with TNR.

“When they get released back to the community, they have a great opportunity for a healthy and happy life, and also not creating more liters of cats,” said Toellner.

But critics say there’s not enough science to back it up.

The National Institutes of Health published this peer-reviewed research that says trap, neuter, and return programs are “not effective methods for reducing public health concerns or for controlling federal cat populations.”

Reginald Murray owns Oklahoma Wildlife Control. He’s spent the past two decades helping people catch wild animals that scurry around their home. He says that cat colonies are harmful to the ecosystem.

“The problem with feral cats is they’re one of the most voracious killers in nature, and they wipe areas of native species,” said Murray. “The food chain supports itself, then you enter something as voracious as a feral cat, it greatly disrupts the food chain.”

In 2019, the City drafted a proposed ordinance that would allow cat colony programs in Tulsa. No decisions have been made since the ordinance was proposed, but last year, mayor G.T. Bynum did sign the contract with Best Friends, agreeing to “develop potential revisions to ordinances.”

The current city ordinance says you can’t put any domestic animal in any public or private place with the intention of abandoning it. However, trapping, neutering, and returning cats in Tulsa is not considered abandonment.